Friday, April 29, 2011

Toasting Royalty

I woke up feeling sick to my stomach in the middle of the night. After about an hour of tossing and turning, I accepted that I wasn't going to fall back to sleep anytime soon.

Rather than staring at the ceiling, at least there was something fun to watch on television. You might have heard something about it -- the Royal Wedding?

I'm not one of those people around the world who planned pre-dawn tea parties or put bottles of bubbly on ice to celebrate. I didn't order a replica of the engagement ring or a set of tea cups with the couples' photo. Had I been feeling okay, I would have turned on the television and watched while I got ready for the day and then gone off to work, knowing full well that I wasn't really missing anything. The news stations would air all the important shots again and again and again. Then again.

Since I was sick, I made a cup of tea (I drink tea anyway, so this was not a special tribute to England), curled up in my comfy chair and got totally sucked into the event. I swear, when it comes to days like today, nobody arranges an event this size like the British royal family. The beautiful bride, handsome groom and their families arriving in vintage luxury automobiles, polished to the highest gloss. Uniformed calvary officers on matching black horses. Century old carriages. The world's most famous abbey. Kings, queens, princes, princesses, "lesser" royals, nobles, famous soccer players, and pub owners seated as guests. (I love that William and Kate invited the owner of their favorite pub.) Military flyovers and tens of thousands of people gentilly and calmly collected along the motor routes and outside the palace waiting for the first public kiss as man and wife.

All planned and pulled off with exquisite timing. Seriously, ABC News posted the schedule of events. Peoples' departures and arrivals were set to the minute. I imagine that a squadron of royal timekeepers synchronized their watches before departing to the various palaces and hotels and then communicated via cell phones to make sure the right prince got into the right car at precisely the right time.

No worry about traffic tie-ups with the roads cleared along the route. Those Bentleys and Rolls arrived at Westminster exactly when expected.

As far as I saw, nobody tripped getting out of their cars either. Nobody lost an eye to the trimmings on one of those amazing hats.

Seriously. Nobody does hats like British women. For the most part they were spectacular, although some (Princess Beatrice) were odd. Princess Michael of Kent's hat was so huge, that the people in back of her watched the proceedings on their iPhones.

The newscasters constantly referred to the groom and his brother as either the princes or the boys. Boys, as if they haven't completely grown up from the adorable babies and toddlers we cooed over when they were born. When they stepped from their car in their gorgeous dress uniforms, all I saw were handsome young men.

Everybody eagerly awaited the first glimpse of the bride's dress. We caught a flash as she slipped into the Rolls Royce, and then feasted our eyes on her from at least the bodice up. Someone retro-fitted the car so that the back window extended up to half the roof giving us a nice clear view through the bullet-proof glass.

Lace bodice and sleeves, a "discreetly" plunging neckline, delicate veil held in place by a diamond tiara. Teardrop-shapped earrings, set with diamonds, glittered behind the veil. Good Lord, she looked beautiful - and considering the enormity of the day, not the least bit terrified.

As soon as she arrived at the abbey and gracefully exited the car, you could practically hear bridal shops around the world moving lace-topped dresses into their window displays and placing them at the forefront of the racks.

The long walk down the aisle, the grin from Prince Harry when he peeked over his shoulder at the bride's approach and then turned to tell his brother what he'd seen. . . . Steady voices for the vows, eyes glowing. Married in front of the world, the two of them frequently smiled at each other, creating some personal connection between them. Every once in awhile, Kate glanced around as if she wanted to take it all in.

The departure into an open landau, poised, smiling and waving to the throngs of people cheering their journey. The news services' lip-readers report that at one point Kate turned to William and said, "I'm so happy." The new Duchess of Cambridge has learned protocol. Whenever Prince William saluted someone, Kate bowed her head in a gesture of respect. (Her first curtsy to her new grandmother-in-law was gracefully perfect.)

Okay, just typing that makes me think about how truly enormous the day was for this woman. Any bride's wedding is a big day, but nobody else was marrying a prince and future king. When she said "I will", she not only gained a husband, she gained a few titles and became a Duchess, a Countess and a Baroness. Technically, she's also now Princess William of Wales. I'm assuming that she's also Kate Windsor, but I bet nobody calls her that.

Only Kate, on this day, saw Her Monarch become her in-law. I wonder if she still has to call her "Your Majesty". I can't imagine her calling the Queen Grammy like William does, but then again, who knows what goes on within the family.

According to one of the Brit protocol explainers, from this day forward, people have to curtsy to Kate and call her Your Highness or ma'am. She now only curtsies to the Queen and Duchess Camilla, since the duchess's husband is actually next in line to the throne. Pretty mind-blowing, if you ask me. I imagine it will take some getting used to. It's not everyone who comes out on a balcony, waves, and then hears tens of thousands of people cheer when you turn and kiss your new husband.

I hope she handles it well. I hope that the public, and the media treats them well. I hope that they enjoy a long, happy, life together. They might be royalty, but at the end of the day they're a man and woman who married the people they love. They're every bit as deserving of happiness as the rest of us.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Boulevard by Stephen Jay Schwartz

Rarely has a book disturbed me and kept me trapped in its power to the degree of Boulevard by Stephen Jay Schwartz. I might have missed reading it all together had I not gone to the RT Booklovers Convention earlier this month in Los Angeles. I attended a panel about keeping sex real in fiction. The panelists included my friends Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson, along with Barry Eisler and an author I hadn't heard of before, Stephen Jay Schwartz. (Sorry, Stephen!)

In the discussion, Stephen talked about his books. In a couple of sentences, he intrigued me about his main character - an LAPD detective who is also a sex addict. Conflict, anyone?

From page one, it was obvious that Stephen is one hell of a writer, a word artist, and a master storyteller. Not to sound blase about murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, but a cop versus serial killer plot isn't new. What made it new for me, and totally engrossing, is that Stephen transforms his story into a perfectly filmed movie that plays in the reader's imagination.

The scenes, the emotions, the people, are so vivid that they transcend the limits of the page. You not only see them, you feel them, no matter how sickening or painful. Whether cruising the L.A. streets, and seeing the broad cityscape through the eyes of detective Hayden Glass, or narrowing your focus to the angle of a posed corpse, you're in the scene. You become as caught up in the case as the characters and know that you have no choice but to see this through with them to the end. That's the gift of the author. The images are so spectacularly drawn that the prose nearly becomes poetic. Dark poetry, for sure, but beauty's not only found in sunlight.

Hayden Glass is tormented not only by the evil killer he hunts, but also by the internal compulsions he battles with every breath. I hurt for him and, I'm not ashamed to admit, even cried for him because of the choices he has to make and the losses he endures.

Boulevard is not an easy book to read, but writing this good is rare and once I started I was hooked. I wouldn't have missed it for the world and you better believe I'm going to read the second book in the series and whatever else Stephen Schwartz writes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Internet Connection

Physically, the planet's no smaller than it was a millenium ago. It just feels that way. A couple of hundred years ago, if I wanted to get in touch with a friend in Australia, my letter would take months and months to get to her by ship. If the ship happened to sink around the Cape of Good Hope, well, let's hope I wasn't sending a love letter and waiting for an answer.

Tonight, all I need to do is open up Instant Messenger, Skype, or the chat window on Facebook and the direct line of communication is open. Now anyone can keep in touch three dozen ways to Sunday by clicking a few buttons.

In this sense, the world hasn't just gotten smaller. It's downright cozy.

In recent weeks, I've had some fun Internet connection experiences. On Facebook, I've "Liked" the page of author Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I commented on one of her status updates. A few hours later I received a message from a woman whose name I didn't recognize. She'd seen my comments and my name reminded her of someone she knew long ago. By any chance was I the same Mary Stella that went to Camp XXX in upstate New York in 1969?

Paint me gobsmacked. Yes, by chance, I am that same Mary Stella. The woman who wrote was one of my roomates. She had the left bunk. I was the center one. A third girl named Andie was on the right. I think we were roommates for one month. One month 42 years ago and she remembered my name when she saw it on a Facebook page. As soon as she said it, I remembered that she was a Cubs fan and had curly hair. That recollection isn't a tenth as impressive as picking a name off a page.

Not even a week after this, I was walking up to my office at work when one of my co-workers stopped me. He joined our organization six or so months ago after living in Chicago. "Mary, this is going to sound strange," he said, "But how do you know Dustin R.?" The out-of-left-field question threw me for a short moment, but I remembered that anything's possible in this day and information age.

"He's married to Allison who is the daughter of one of my older brother's best friends and college buddies. I've known her since she was a baby," I replied. "How do you know him?"

Turns out my co-worker's brother worked and became friends with Allison and, therefore, Dustin, out in California.

Let's subtract a few numbers from that six degrees of separation, shall we?

Internet connection coincidences must come in threes. For several years I've been a fan and daily reader of the blog by the talented, hilarious Ken Levine. In addition to being an Emmy award-winning writer/producer/director, Ken is also an MLB announcer. He also spent a lot of years as a deejay on Top 40 radio stations. In his recent blogpost, Ken wrote about some of his radio experiences. Back when I was in college, I worked every summer for a radio station in my home area of Atlantic City. I posted a short comment about the station and my experience.

Tonight I logged on email and opened a letter from a guy who worked at that same radio station in 1978 - when I was there for my last summer. So many years ago, but I remembered him. Turns out, he and Ken are close friends and have similar backgrounds in radio and sports announcing. Mike McCann is not only a diehard baseball fan, he's also an accomplished photographer. Click here to see some of his photos on his blog.

Maybe it's wrong to call all of these things coincidences. Given the instant connections made possible by the Internet, I don't think we should expect anything less.

What's the best connection you've experienced thanks to the world wide web?

Saturday, April 16, 2011


After years of dithering and delay, I've finally committed to remodeling my master bedroom. I've talked about doing it forever, but opted for other projects (kitchen, guest bathroom, boat, pool) instead. This time, it's for real! I've spoken to my favorite contractor and have even set a start date. He's going to do the bulk of the work while I first cruise to Alaska and then have a work-related conference. This means that a lot of messy stuff can get done when the dogs and I aren't around.

Bonus -- He'll be around the house while I'm gone and will feed my fish!

I've thought a lot about what I want to do. Remove the paneling, install insulation and put up non-paneled walls. Rip out the wall-to-wall carpeting and put down flooring, then area rugs. There are two closets. If the wall between them isn't a bearing wall, then I'd like to covert two into one larger closet so I can do organizers and maximize the space. New windows.

Nothing to it, right? Hah. Let's just say that I'm glad I'm not the one doing the work. It's taken me long enough to move forward at all. The contractor's coming over next week to give me good measurements so that I can order the flooring and windows. There's no turning back!

Now I'm on a deadline. Before any work can happen, I need to completely clean out the room. I made a good start on this a couple of weeks ago and now I've developed a clean, clear action plan. This weekend, I'm going through the two closets. If there is any garment in there that I have not worn more than once in the last two years, it goes into the pile for donation to the Salvation army. Everything that remains will be folded neatly into plastic tubs and moved into the spare bedroom.

The ginormous suitcase that I'm taking on the cruise is already on one of the beds in the other room. I've started putting in clothes that I know need to make the trip.

I have many, many books in that room. Going through the titles and deciding what to keep will be more difficult than sorting through the clothes. I have great sentimental attachment to many of these and this battles my practical streak. There is only so much room in my house for all the titles I'd love to keep and right now the bookshelves are at max capacity and piles are overflowing.

The saving grace is that I can donate paperbacks to the local library, so I know that they'll find their way into the hands of appreciative readers.

The furniture's going, too. Believe me that this bedroom set has more than served its usefulness and then some. When my parents bought the house in 1978, this furniture was included so it's at least that old, maybe older. The mattress is at least 15 years old. Yes, I'm overdue.

That's the nuts and bolts of the remodeling project, but amid the tasks I know there's something more emotional going on, too. I think that, more than any other room in a home, our bedrooms are personal space. They're where we rest, rejuvenate, and dream. We prepare in them at the beginning of the day, and unwind in them at the end.

In a sense, I never really created this room as my own personal space. Instead of it flowing out from me, I sort of fit myself into its four walls. Consequently, I've never loved the room as a personal space.

This remodeling job is more. It's a reclamation and I'm going to enjoy every bit of the creation.

What have you recreated or remodeled lately? Does the process affect you emotionally, too?

Monday, April 11, 2011

From FLA to LA and Home Again

Arriving home from the RT Convention in Los Angeles means so many things. Time to snuggle with the pups today, a chance to breath in the fresh, salty air while I gaze out on the harbor. A couple of good naps after a redeye flight and, finally, Internet access that really is "high speed" and not "slower than a constipated banana slug on quaaludes". I'm amazed, and not a little miffed, that the hotel (Westin Bonaventure) charges $12.95 a day for their Internet access. Given the slowness, that's about $6.50 an email.

Now I'm home where fast is only slightly slower than instantaneous, so I can blog about the rest of the trip. (Even if I haven't figured out yet why Blogger is ignoring the formatting and running my paragraphs together. Maybe I just need to double return. It looks fine here, but who knows? We'll explore.) When last we visited, I was on my way to the bookfair and bemoaning the fact that Spirit Airlines now charges you $25 extra for your checked backage if you go over 40 pounds. So, I made note of the books that I wanted to buy but didn't and will download them from Amazon to my Kindle.

The booksigning was huge. Hundreds of authors and readers all coming together in a giant ballroom. There were readers rolling small carts around that they were filling up with books. Some people bought fewer but those readers were no less thrilled to meet with their favorite authors.

I picked up Mercy Kill by my friend Lori Armstrong. Lori writes amazing, gritty, intense, terrific mysteries featuring the main character of retired army sniper Mercy Gundersen. Set in Lori's home state of South Dakota, the book is peopled with ranchers, Lakotas, bikers, multi-generational families -- all real, authentic characters that will intrigue you from start to finish. In the "Mercy" series, people fight crime and are forced to battle their own internal demons. Mercy is not a delicate flower of a woman. She kicks some major ass, but is not without her own, heavily disguised vulnerability. Mercy Kill is the second book in the series. I started reading it Saturday night and finished today. I can't wait for the next book!

It never fails that when I go to these conventions, I meet at least one author that's new to me and get to spend some time talking with them. This time around, it was Stephen Jay Schwartz. I first saw him speak on a panel about sex portrayed realisitcally in books. The other panel members were my friends Heather Graham and F. Paul Wilson, and author Barry Eisler.

Stephen has two books out in a series that features LAPD Robbery-Homicide detective Hayden Glass. I was so intrigued by Stephen's description of Glass in that panel that I bought the first book, Boulevard, at the booksigning. Here's the back cover copy:

Harden Glass never had it easy. He fought hard for everything he got, hounded by a shame that he could never quite define or conquer. Now a Los Angeles Police Robbery-Homicide detective, Glass is still haunted by the scars that left a permanent void in his soul. he deals with it the only way he can . . . he cruises Sunset Boulevard, picking up prostitutes. Hayden Glass is a sex addict. Called to investigate a heinous crime scene involving the daughter of a prominent L.A. polictician, Glass is quickly overwhelmed by the media spotlight. When new murders arise, Glass sees a link where no one else does, realizing that this is the work of a vicious, sadistic sexual predator. His investigation takes him beyond his temptations and to the line where the deviant behavior that has become his crutch crosses over into devinatly criminal. Wow. I can't wait to dive in to this book.

After the booksigning, I had lunch with some friends and then settled in for the Mr. Romance Cover Model Pageant back at the convention. I must admit, that this pageant has lost some of the drool factor for me now that I'm in my 50s, but I still enjoy it for entertainment. Plus, two friends - Beth Ciotta and Mark Johnson - co-host the event so I go, cheer, and generally have a good time. Drinks at the bar with friends followed the pageant, and another dance party took place after that, so we pretty much were busy from morning to midnight.

Sunday dawned and Beth and I started packing up our things. She had a 9:30 a.m. shuttle to catch for the airport. I had plans to take a city tour of Los Angeles with friends Debbie and Caitlin Richardson. This was a bonus day. I can't tell you how many cities I've been to for conventions and conferences and then rarely left the hotel to see anything.

This tour was terrific with an engaging tour guide and plenty of time to drive all over. Venice Beach and Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive, a farmer's market, the tar pits, a scenic overlook of the entire city, Hollywood, the Chinese Theater, and the Walk of Fame -- all in 4 1/2 hours. I felt like I at least got to experience some of the many things that make L.A. famous, with the exception of any celebrities. The closest we got were wax figures of Jane Lynch and Madonna that were on loan from Madame Tussaud's Museum for the GLAAD Awards event going on at our hotel when we returned.

Around 6 I shared a car to the airport with friends Lisa and Kelli. I boarded the plane at 8:40 p.m. and buckled in for the redeye flight back east. Thankfully, I inherited the ability to sleep anywhere from my father so I snoozed for most of the trip. We touched down back here in South Florida a little after 5 a.m. The drive home took just under three hours, with a stop to pick up Nat and Pyxi.

All in all it was a terrific trip. The convention staff did a terrific job in organizing and arranging all of the panels, workshops and events. I saw and met people who are writing heroes, learned some valuable stuff, and got to spend time with dear friends whom I do not see nearly often enough. I'm glad that I went and am also happy to be home, newly inspired to forge on with my own career again.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Quick Bit from RT

I'm at the Romantic Times Booklover Convention in Los Angeles. (Waving to the housesitter and dogs back home!) I know that I should be filling the blog with great stories and pictures. Unfortunately, my camera broke the night before I flew out and the Hi-Speed Internet connection in the hotel is so slow that I could regenerate teeth faster. So, here's a quick shot of highlights: Seeing friends I love and adore Had lunch with a writing hero - Emmy winning writer/director/producer Ken Levine. Check out his very funny blog on my blog roll. I read his newly e-published book of travelogs on the plane ride. It's hilarious! Attended a chat with Dean Koontz who was extremely funny. Free signed book - BONUS! Attended a panel discussion by five soap stars - fun, enlightening. Great reader chat moderated by Sarah of Smart Bitches blog and Jane Litte of Dear Author. Great to hear what readers have to say about what they want. Performed last night in Heather Graham's annual dinner show. This year's performance was Zombie Dancers from Planet 9. We survived the show, although I got to die brilliantly on stage as the murder victim Signed at the ebook expo yesterday. Sold a print copy and handed out several postcards announcing the e-versions of my books. Also signed a male friend's "tramp stamp". That's a first! (He's the husband of a friend. Next time, it's the abs.) Heading out now for the bookfair. I feel limited in what I can buy, cursed by Spirit Airlines ridiculous 40 pound weight limit on checked baggage. May just have to pay for the overage, damn them. That's all for now. Have a great day!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Cosmetic Enhancements

Some woman on morning television today claims the world record in plastic surgery procedures. She's had something like 1000 things done for a gagillion dollars. I can't conceive of wanting to get so much work done. I don't put such temporary things as eyelash perming, keratin treatments on my hair, and facials in the same category. Does the tattoo on my foot count as a cosmetic enhancement? The salon that I go to has a permanent makeup artist. Women go in and get makeup tatooed for the eyebrows, eyelids, lips. They wakeup without that dreaded morning face. The artist's ad card is a little disconcerting. She has before and after shots for eyes, mouth and . . . nipples. While I totally cheer for this service and the help it gives to women who have had reconstructive surgery on their breasts after mastectomies, I still want to fold my arms over my chest and whine when I look at the card. Yes, sure, I let a tattoo artist stick needles in the top of my foot to create my lovely starfish. As much as I'm sure that permanently lined eyes would look fabulous, no, I am not letting someone do the same on my lids. At 53, I'm fortunate that I don't have masses of wrinkles. Some grooves on the upper lip, one between the brows, some light crow's feet at the corners of my eyes. I do like to take care of my skin with a good cleansing and moisturizing routine. My esthetician started me on this great moisturizing stuff hyaluronic acid. We have it in our bodies but it diminishes with age. The substance holds something like 1000 times its volume in fluid so I apply it after dampening my face. No lie. This is plumping up some skin cells and reducing the look of those lines. Turns out that HA is the same stuff that's in some of the injections people get for wrinkles. (Different stuff than Botox.) Good cleansers, a moisturizer, wearing sunblock, coloring the gray in my hair, doing the eyelash perm, good hair care, manicures and pedicures -- These things make me happy. Procedures that require anesthesia and stitches? I'll reserve those for life-saving or health-restoring measures. How about you? How far will you go to enhance your appearance?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Eyelashes curled, hair straightened-much to do to get ready for RT. Didn't plan on purple dress turning sheets lavendar. I can work with it!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

A "Me" Day

I'm heading out to the pool to exercise in a bit, but I'm really trying to blog more consistently, so I stopped by here first. I like to blog, so even this has become part of my "Me" day. Me days are important. I'm a big believer that most of us deserve to set aside time for activities and treats just for ourselves. I also don't feel that we do this often enough. It isn't selfish, or even particularly indulgent, to foster some quality self-care. Think on it. Most of us have day jobs and then we have our life responsibilities on top of it, so we spend a whole bunch of time each day taking care of things and work for other people or organizations. If you don't work outside the home, chances are you devote a lot of your time to other people in your family. Am I right? So, how am I indulging myself with this Me day? I slept in a little later this morning and relaxed over breakfast instead of eating and rushing out the door. I'm heading out for a dip which is always fun. Later this morning, I'm going for a facial. As good as that is for my skin care, I love the experience more for the 90 minutes of pure pampering. (Check back later for deets on my first ever eyelash perming.) On the way home, I'll hit the store to buy ingredients and make something that I really like for dinner. Don't know what it will be yet. I'm open to inspiration. This afternoon, I'm digging into de-cluttering my bedroom in a big way. "Wait!", I hear you cry. "Cleaning is work. That's not You time!" Well, it is and it isn't. Normally, I'd agree and equate cleaning with something equally enjoyable -- like a root canal -- but this time it really is for me. In May, I'm having my master bedroom redone. I've already lined up my favorite contractor -- John of the brilliant work on my kitchen and bathroom remodeling -- and need to start preparing. So, first the de-clutter because, frankly, the room's a mess right now. Then John can come in to do measurements so I know how much flooring and what size windows to order. I've wanted to redo the bedroom for years and am very excited about finally tackling the project. So, see? The work today really is for me. I have clothes to go through so I can decide what to pack for an upcoming trip - always fun. I picked up a book from a series that I really like and have reading time built in. I definitely see some relaxing porch time with the dogs in the plans for the day. It really is all about me and it makes me feel good just thinking about it. How about you? What are you doing for yourself today? What have you done recently? What's your top choice for making it all about you?